Excavating the spirit

by Sheri Boggs

Walking into the new installation, Tattooed Ladies and the Dinosaur, at the EWU Art Gallery, you feel for a moment as if you've entered an ancient and sacred place. The structure of the room is circular, for starters. Then, there are the bones all over the floor -- big, dinosaur-size bones and smaller, more human-scale pieces. All ceramic, some of the bones are glazed, some are not; most vary in hue from sun-bleached white to prized-from-the-earth brown, but occasionally, one will be bright blue, or iridescent purple. Then there's the ring of bird tiles, curving around the perimeter of the bone field like a far-flung picture scroll. And finally, there are the legs -- wonderful pale ceramic legs in pairs, each tattooed in roses, Maori designs, waves and geometric patterns -- all with delicate pink toenails. It's easy to feel as if you've wandered into a shrine to evolution, if not on a grand scale, definitely on the personal scale.

Like many artists, Moscow, Idaho, painter and sculptor Marilyn Lysohir works from a highly personal and individual place. Still, one wonders how birds, bones and tattooed legs all come together in one installation.

"I've always used my life in my art, both memories and stories," Lysohir explains. "It's a good basis to start with things I'm emotionally connected to."

The tattoo element of the show comes from Lysohir's husband, Ross Coates, himself an artist and tattoo aficionado (and canvas) and also from Lysohir's own interest in tattoos, particularly in terms of Japanese tattoo art and the female form. The rest of the show evolved in serendipitous and surprising ways.

"When I was first thinking about this show, I was eating these cookies that had great graphics, these organic dinosaur cookies," laughs Lysohir. "And it just came together. I thought, 'Let's move into a whole piece and how I relate it to myself and my life.'"

The installation took seven years to complete -- all during a pivotal period in the artist's life.

"I started it when I was 43, and I was 50 when I finished it. I was menopausal by the time I finished, which really led me to thinking about how tattooing is a marker for the events in one's life. There's so much there about identification and history."

These two elements -- identification and history -- play into the circle of bird tiles surrounding the installation. Like illustrations from a Peterson's Field Guide of the imagination, Lysohir's birds inhabit a dream landscape of hue and intuition. Spheres, clouds, the symbol of an eye or tiny, handwritten words frame and contextualize each small bird. One, "Spontaneous Combustion," incorporates each word of its title in a quiet, seemingly fireproof visual construction involving spheres, airy colors and a yellow and black warbler. Others -- "Shy," "Remembrance," "Search" and "Yes, Maybe, No" -- ask the viewer to stop, to think, and above all, to connect.

"Birds are living relics of what the dinosaurs evolved into," she says. "But there's also the more personal aspect. When I was younger, my family went to church and there were beautiful paintings on the walls, and my favorite as a little kid was a representation of the Holy Spirit as a bird. In so many different religions, birds have been used as messengers from the heavens, or in the case of New Guinea tribesmen, messengers from the earth to the heavens. So I'm fascinated with the symbolism and belief and how birds often come as a kind of protector."

In her work and life, Lysohir's approach to art is inclusive and interdisciplinary. She founded the literary magazine High Ground with Coates in 1995, creating a finished work that goes far beyond the usual glossy-covered, black text-on-white paper look of most literary magazines. Sewn burlap pouches, found objects and metal elements are as integral to the magazine's construction as words. Making such a publication isn't cheap, which led to Lysohir's other creative endeavor, Cowgirl Chocolates.

"I started Cowgirl Chocolates to raise money to do High Ground, but it became its own entity."

Lysohir's confections -- rich chocolate melded with a peppery kick -- have become so successful that the University of Idaho's Business College used them as a case study for small business success. Art, fused with practicality, has served her well.

"In embryonic terms you could say that my art decisions are common sense, everything is intermingled in my work."

Tattooed Ladies and the Dinosaur exhibits at EWU's Art Gallery on the Cheney campus through April 25. Call: 359-7089.

Art in the AG's Office

There's a new gallery space in town, and it's in one of the city's most unlikely venues -- the lobby of the office of the Attorney General on Riverside.

"It's a fun space. I enjoy juxtaposing art within this very serious space," says MARTY JOHNSON, liaison for the Attorney General's Office lobby art gallery. "Each time I have a show there, I want to push the edge of the envelope just a little bit more."

The North Coast Life Insurance building -- white stone cut in elegant, curving lines -- which houses the gallery is itself a work of art. The gallery looks like, well, a hallway, but a brightly lit and inviting hallway it is. This month's show is an exhibition of Johnson's own work, it turns out, and the works are challenging in more ways than one. While her paintings are abstract, it's their personal nature that is most surprising in a largely bureaucratic setting.

"We were expecting a first grandbaby, who was stillborn, and my daughter was looking at the paintings and said, 'Mom, these pieces, they're about ovulation,'" she recalls. The paintings grew out of her mixed feelings.

"There's a great deal of sadness, but there's also the good stuff, the excitement and the process of life. When you lose something, you find out how much it really matters to you. It's another way of dealing with really strong grief," she says. "One of my favorite pieces is called 'My World,' followed by 'My World Turned Upside Down,' the whole thing gets to a point where you're just so excited, which I tried to capture in the piece called 'Elated.'"

"In the Beginning," a show of work by

Marty Johnson, exhibits at the Attorney General's Office lobby, 1116 W. Riverside, through May 2. Call: 328-8384.

Solo Exhibition

It's not surprising that the names of some of the pieces in MICHAEL V. KLESERT's first solo show on exhibit this month at The Met are musical in nature. "Nocturne," "Etude I" and others are no doubt an allusion to Klesert's other love -- music. In fact, as development and marketing director at Holy Names Music Center, Klesert's day job revolves around music. But in recent years, Klesert has opted to take up an instrument of another kind -- the paintbrush.

Klesert's watercolors and oils employ an often vivid palette, even as they capture the subtle expressions of friends, family and the female form. "Adam" shows a little boy in a glowing wheat field, while many of the portraits of women are of the subjects' backs. When asked about his philosophy as an artist, he is quick to answer.

"Beauty first and foremost, is important to me. It's really difficult, but I like people to know what they're looking at. I also like to have a certain amount of ambiguity where they need to make up their own mind what the emotion is. I like to present the nicer aspects as opposed to the more gruesome or grotesque aspects of life."

"Front to Back" by Michael V. Klesert

exhibits at The Met through April,

Monday through Friday during regular

box office hours, 10 am-2 pm, and during evening events. Call: 227-7638.

Hail, Helena

Although we try to keep close to home in our regular arts column, occasionally something outside the area piques our interest, for example, the Jundt Art Museum-sponsored WESTERN

MONTANA ART TOUR at the end of the month. Featuring visits to the Archie Bray Foundation and the Charlie Russell Museum in Helena, the April 27-29 trip also includes a private tour of the Holter Museum of Art (which will be showing an exhibit of favorite up-and-coming Montana artists), a walk through Montana's Capitol building and, if time permits, stops at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Interpretive Center and the Paris Gibson Museum.

The Archie Bray Foundation is the oldest -- and one of the most recognized -- ceramic foundries in the United States. Robert Harrison, who exhibited at the Jundt earlier this year, will be hosting the private tour of the Archie Bray, where he is currently president of the Board of Directors. The Charlie Russell Museum encompasses Russell's log cabin studio, an extensive Russell collection and photographs of early Montana.

The Western Montana Art Tour is April 27-29. Cost: $449 per person; $349 students. Registration closes April 16. Call: 323-6611.